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COGS displeased with contract proposal

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | NOVEMBER 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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On Monday afternoon, officials presented the state Board of Regents’ contract proposal for graduate-student employees to the University of Iowa Campaign to Organize Graduate Students, which was greeted with extreme displeasure.

COGS members voiced numerous concerns about the proposed contract, including its lack of language regarding student fees. The current two-year contract expires in June 2015.

Two weeks ago, COGS officials proposed fee reimbursement in its contract proposal to the regents.
Both sides will now move forward in collective bargaining. Under law, a voluntary agreement must be reached by March 2015.

Melissa Zimdars, the COGS chief campus steward, referred to such fees, which have risen sharply in recent years, as “backdoor tuition.”

“I don’t really understand all this lawyer-language stuff,” said Ben Burroughs, a UI Ph.D. student said facetiously after the meeting. “I’m kind of ignorant to all of it, but I do know what it means to pay fees, and so I would like the Board of Regents to at least respond to the plight of graduate students.”

Graduate College Dean John Keller told The Daily Iowan that discussion of fees and tuition in contracts is not a given.

“Fees have never been part of the contract per se,” he said. “They’ve been part of the discussion process, but they’ve never been included. Right at the moment, the interpretation is that they’re not a mandatory item of bargaining by the [state] Public Employment Relations Board.”

UI graduate-student employee contracts do discuss tuition issues, which Keller said is to promote competitiveness and marketability to prospective students.

Additionally, COGS members took issue with a suggestion to prorate tuition scholarships for graduate assistants with an appointment of less than 50 percent, or approximately 20 hours of work a week.

Currently, students with a 25 percent appointment or above receive a full resident tuition scholarship. Under the regents’ proposal, students at 25 percent would receive half of that.

Those with 50 percent or above would maintain full scholarships.

“They’re not responding to the fee issue, but they’re trying to get tuition from us regardless,” UI Ph.D. student Hannah Johnson said. “They’re trying to see graduate students not as employees, I mean, as slave laborers for sure, but also as slave laborers who are also paying tuition.”

Keller said many universities are shifting to prorated scholarships for graduate-student workers.

“Increasingly, institutions are moving toward a prorated tuition and benefits package based upon the percent of the appointment of the student,” he said. “We’re trying to follow common practice across the Big Ten.”

He said a major reason is to make more efficient use of the college’s financial resources, which have become tighter and fewer over the past few years.

Furthermore, students were displeased with several more of the proposals, including complete striking of language related to human rights, which officials said was redundant given the UI’s policies, and no increase in wages, contrary to the COGS proposal.

Additionally, the graduate students were concerned about a 10-semester limit on financial aid and removing language allowing COGS members to participate in new employee orientations.

Regents’ general counsel Tom Evans, who presented the contract, frequently emphasized the gathering was intended to present an initial proposal and not meant to provide a response to COGS’ own on Nov. 3.

“I don’t believe that this is the forum for engaging in a dialogue about whatever the proposals are,” he said during the meeting following several pointed questions. “I’m not planning to engage in a debate.”


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